Microfade Testing Seminar

On a gloomy Los Angeles morning earlier this week, I rode a driver-less tram up to the Getty Center to attend a one day seminar on Microfade Testing (MFT).

Seminar room showing title screen for Microfade Testing Public Seminar

Speakers from institutions around the world discussed how they have been using this technology in recent years to support exhibits programs and make informed decisions about safely displaying cultural heritage material. The seminar concluded with demonstrations of several designs of MFT equipment, like the system pictured below.

Microfade testing equipmentIt was such a delight to talk with other conservators about how they are using technologies like this in their own institutions. While I was able to learn a great deal about the application and some limitations of MFT, many questions remain about how we might successfully implement it here at Duke. In the meantime, the seminar highlighted some research opportunities that we can begin pursuing with technology we already have on hand, like multispectral imaging.

Nothin’ But Net

by Erin Hammeke, Senior Conservator for Special Collections

We recently treated and housed a collection of 19th century photo albums documenting travels in China by Charles Davis Jameson. Most of the albums had very degraded leather covers that we treated by consolidating with Klucel G, making Mylar wrappers for some, and simply housing in protective enclosures for others. One accordion album posed a particular challenge with its shaped wooden boards and silk covering. The silk cover was shattering and had become completely detached from the front board. We decided to make a wrapper for the loose front cover and house it in an enclosure with the book.

Before treatment photo of photo album front cover.

The back cover, however, was still extant but very tenuously attached.

Before treatment photo of photo album with original silk cover cover shattered and separating from the wooden board, making it vulnerable to damage during handling. We wanted to find a quick and simple solution to stabilize the rear covering and decided to use a lightweight Nylon netting, toned with acrylic, and wrapped around the silk covering and wooden board to contain and protect it.

Photo album after treatment photo showing back cover with acrylic toned nylon netting wrapped around pillow-shaped board and adhered to material cut to the size of the inside cover.

After treatment detail image of nylon netting over album boards.

The netting was adhered to a Mylar insert, cut to the size of the front cover with 3M ATG transfer tape. A leaf of archival paper that matched the tone and quality of the album paper was adhered with double-stick tape on top, sandwiching the netting between layers of archival material and protecting the facing photograph from abrasion from the netting.

After treatment photo showing netting wrapped around back covered and adhered to a Mylar insert; a sympathetic archival paper is adhered on top of that.

The netting is stretched over the pillow-shaped wooden board and the cut end of the Nylon is left open at the board hinge. We were very happy with this quick and easy solution.

See ‘Ya Later Tedd


Good luck Tedd!

It is a bittersweet day in Conservation. Tedd Anderson has decided to leave the lab and we just won’t be the same. Tedd has been with Conservation for six years. He was hired to help with what we called “The Enabling Project.” This was work we did to help prepare the Rubenstein Library for renovation. It required a lot of boxing. So much boxing.

Once that project was over, Tedd continued to make custom enclosures for Rubenstein. He also treated materials from the general collections, and he helped with preparing special collections materials for digitization. In his time here almost 20,000 items crossed his bench. Many of those things needed custom enclosures. Tedd could make a box for just about anything. Cigarette rolling machine? Sure. Suitcase? Yep. A typewriter? No problem. He even made a pretty awesome eclipse viewer to watch last year’s solar eclipse.

Tedd also contributed to this blog. He wrote about the very large boxes he made for our four-volume Audubon set. He also wrote about designing and making enclosures for the very small books in our miniature collection.

We will miss Tedd’s sense of humor, his dedication to all things boxing, and his artistic doodling during staff meetings. So long Tedd. We wish you well and look forward to hearing about your next big adventure.


Position Open in Conservation Services

Duke University Libraries seeks qualified applicants for the position of Conservation Technician in the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab. This position is an opportunity to work at a major ARL member library invested in the long-term care of and access to its collections. The successful candidate will demonstrate excellent hand skills, the capacity to learn new skills, customer focus, and creative problem solving. We seek candidates who will thrive in an open, engaging atmosphere that focuses on production as well as continuous learning and sharing of knowledge among staff at all levels.

Major responsibilities include treating materials primarily in the circulating collections; creating custom enclosures for both circulating and special collections; overseeing the workflow of materials from circulation points in the Perkins-Bostock Library and the branch libraries; and training and oversight of student assistants. You can see the full position description and position requirements online.

Duke University Libraries values diversity of thought, perspective, experience, and people, and is actively committed to a culture of inclusion and respect. Review of applications will begin immediately and will continue until the position is filled.  An electronic resume, cover letter, and list of references should be submitted at: https://hr.duke.edu/careers/apply.  Refer to requisition # 401385532.

Duke University is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer committed to providing employment opportunity without regard to an individual’s age, color, disability, gender, gender expression, gender identity, genetic information, national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or veteran status. Duke also makes good faith efforts to recruit, hire, and promote qualified women, minorities, individuals with disabilities, and veterans. For more information on careers at Duke University, visit https://hr.duke.edu/careers.


HBCU Library Alliance Summer 2018 Library Preservation/Conservation Internship Program

Applications due February 19, 2018
For more information please visit: http://hbculibraries.org/students.html

HBCU undergraduate students interested in the humanities, arts, and sciences will have the opportunity to learn and practice hands-on library preservation skills during this full-time, eight week internship under the mentorship of professional conservators and library staff at a host site. Successful internship candidates will demonstrate a strong interest in libraries and archives and an attention to detail, as well as interest and academic success in history, the arts, and/or the sciences.

Interns will work on a range of possible projects, including:

  • surveying the condition of library collection materials;
  • conservation stabilization and treatment of historical documents, such as humidification and flattening, surface cleaning, and mending tears;
  • historical research;
  • digitization projects;
  • environmental monitoring; and/or
  • constructing custom storage enclosures for fragile archival materials.

Interns will then use their new expertise to implement a library preservation project designed in collaboration with their mentor and their home institution’s library staff, building on the success of their summer experiences with an opportunity to perform meaningful work preserving significant HBCU library collections at their institution.

The five (5) participating host sites are:
  1. American Philosophical Society Library
    The American Philosophical Society Library is a national center for research in the history of the sciences, early American history, and Native American ethnography and linguistics. The Conservation Department provides complete collection care, ranging from preventive care to single-item treatment, for all books, manuscripts, photographs, and works on paper and parchment held by the Library – numbering 350,000 bound volumes , 13 million manuscript pages, and 250,000 images.
  2. Duke University Libraries, Durham, NC
    Duke University Libraries (DUL) is committed to diversity in its patron communities, services, collections, staff and spaces. One of its guiding principles is to build, maintain, and provide access to an international and multilingual collection, representing the broadest possible spectrum of cultures, ideas, and information. Significant collections include the University Archives, the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture, the Human Rights Archives, and the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History & Culture. The core mission of the Conservation Services Department is to ensure that library materials can be used by patrons both now and in the future.
  3. The Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin, TX
    The Ransom Center is an internationally renowned humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin. Its extensive collections provide unique insight into the creative process of writers and artists, deepening our understanding and appreciation of literature, photography, film, art, and the performing arts. The Center’s Preservation and Conservation Division provides a full range of preventive and conservation treatment options for the long-term care of its collections.
  4. Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, Wilmington, DE
    Winterthur Library collections promote the interdisciplinary study of American material culture, including art, architecture, decorative arts, and everyday life, dating from colonial times into the twentieth century. Its resources include printed books and serials; trade and auction catalogs; manuscripts, diaries, letter books, and family papers of artists, craftspeople, and merchants; design and architectural drawings; historic photographs; printed ephemera; a large collections of modern photographs; and institutional archives. Winterthur’s Library Conservation Lab is located within a larger Conservation Department with additional specialties in paintings, textiles, objects, furniture, works of art on paper, and scientific research and analytics.
  5. Yale University Library, New Haven, CT
    The Gates Conservation Laboratory at the Yale University Library opened in the fall of 2015 and is home to the conservation and exhibitions services program for the Yale Library’s collection of 14 million books, manuscripts, archival documents, photographs and artifacts, held in 16 libraries or collections on campus. The lab is staffed by a team of four conservators, four technicians, and one exhibits program manager, who provide expertise in book, parchment, paper and photograph conservation for both circulating materials and rare, special collections. The collections of the Library, especially those of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, document much of the human record, from Egyptian papyri to early Civil War photographs, and archives of writers, artists, and musicians of the Harlem Renaissance to those of student organizations on the Yale campus.




That is One Flat Hat

By Rachel Pennimen, Senior Conservation Technician

Recently a researcher notified the Rubenstein Library staff that there was a hat with a pin in an envelope inside the manuscript box containing the James McGowan papers. A hat in an envelope?

Open records box with folders inside.
This box doesn’t look like it would contain a hat

Yes, a hat! Indeed there was a very smashed, Civil War era, silk hat in that box.

Before treatment image of flattened hat.
That is one flat hat

It looked more like roadkill than apparel. I found a photograph of a soldier wearing a similar looking hat in the same collection.

Portrait of Civil War soldier in uniform, wearing a hat.
This hat doesn’t look nearly as flat

I used a humidification chamber to slowly add moisture to the fabric until it became more flexible. Then I was able to add a little padding at a time to reshape the hat. Once the hat was the correct shape I removed it from the humidification chamber and let it slowly return to ambient humidity with the padding still in place.

Hat in humidity chamber
Hat in humidity chamber, on foam support.
Humidification chamber sitting in sink.
Humidification chamber

In order to maintain the shape of the hat I made a pillow of non-woven, spunbound polyester fabric that will stay inside of the hat when it returns to storage. The pillow will provide support for the hat and the polyester has a very smooth surface that won’t catch on the fragile silk fibers.

After treatment photo of reshaped hat
This looks more like a hat

I made a custom box to house the hat and created more pillows to provide support and cushion.

Hat in cushioned box with reproduction of photo.

Included in the enclosure are a copy of the photograph from the collection and a pocket for the metal pin. A very special thanks to the keen researcher who noticed this item and brought it to our attention.

Preservation Nesting Boxes

One of my more recent projects has been working on this gorgeous late 19th century Japanese photograph album.

While I’m still dealing with the album itself, today I’d like to briefly share some steps I’ve taken to stabilize the decorative paper box in which the album was originally purchased and stored. When the album came to the library, it was inside the original enclosure, and both album and enclosure were packed in a regular cardboard box with medical underpads as cushioning material.  Unsure of what I was really looking at, I documented the object exactly as it came out of the cardboard box – underpads included!

The underpads do have some merits as packing material, providing both cushioning and a moisture barrier. They are not the best long-term storage materials, though, so we opted to remove them. As you can see, the box was looking a little rough. I removed the photo album and laid out each piece of the enclosure to better see what remained.

The enclosure is  essentially a drop-spine box, covered in decorative red and gold paper. Yellow textile pads are included in the interior of the lid and base to protect the lacquer and ivory covers. The head, tail, and fore-edge of the lid have black woven textile straps and bone pins, which originally fastened to small woven textile loops laced through the lower tray walls. As you can see, several parts of the box are missing and most of the joints have broken. The straps are also broken in several places and very weak.

This enclosure is special because it includes a great deal of information about the album’s provenance. Kusakabe Kimbei (1841-1932) is widely known for these souvenir albums, consisting of hand-colored portraiture and scenic views. Bennet (2006) describes Kusakabe’s (1841-1932) businesses at the two Benten-Dori addresses: 36 functioned as a photography studio, while 27 operated as a shop where composite albums of Kusakabe’s prints were sold (p. 135).

We want to ensure that researchers can open and closely examine the enclosure to see the information on the interior label, but it is not necessary for the heavy photo album to remain inside. The decision was made to create a new padded enclosure for the album and stabilize and store the original enclosure separately.

I began by re-assembling all the box pieces in much the same way I might repair the joints of a paper binding. Using the patterns on the decorative paper, I was able to match all the detached pieces. The original decorative paper was lifted away from the boards and strong handmade paper, toned to match, was adhered underneath with wheat starch paste. I stabilized the remains of the textile straps using toned 60/3 linen thread.

Since the enclosure will not contain the heavy album anymore, the decision was made to just reattach and stabilize the extant materials, rather than recreating the lost walls of the tray and edges of the lid with new board. With only two walls on the bottom tray, I decided to construct a small corrugated box to fit inside and act as additional support. The “filler” box is light weight and can easily be removed by a researcher. This set of two boxes will get a final, outer box to protect the textile straps.

A box, within a box, within a box.

Bennett, T. (2006). Old Japanese photographs: Collector’s data guide. London: Quaritch.

Rolled Textile Storage

Conservation Services is often called upon to create appropriate housing and storage solutions for over-sized textiles in our collections. This very large and currently uncataloged item from the Robert Hill Collection is a recent example.

After some deliberation, the decision was made to store this item rolled on a hollow tube. Our housing method is fairly straightforward: We started with a piece of unbleached cotton muslin, cut larger than the banner in all dimensions, placed on a work surface of assembled tables. The banner was placed in the center. A rigid  tube, about 5″ in diameter and wrapped in high quality paper,  was placed at one end of the muslin (as pictured above). These tubes are constructed of blue/grey barrier board, with neutral pH adhesive, and have passed the Photographic Activity Test. They are available through several suppliers like Gaylord or University Products. With a person at each end of the tube, we slowly rolled the muslin and banner together, being careful to smooth out any distortion or creases as we went. The bundle was then loosely tied up with twill tape.

If dust was a concern in the storage space, we might also wrap in an additional layer of clear polyester.  We will likely add a tyvek label  attached to the twill tape (for example) when cataloging is complete. STASHc (Storage Techniques for Art, Science & History Collections) is a great online resource for potential solutions for housing more cumbersome collection materials, and methods similar to ours can be found there.

Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?

By Rachel Pennimen, Senior Conservation Technician

Not actual collection buttons, just some of the many buttons we have in the lab.


The Rubenstein Library holds a growing collection of political ephemera including many political pins. Over time the library has received multiple additions to the collection and expects to continue collecting more of these items in the future. The collection arrived in batches with a variety of different inconsistent housing methods. At first, conservation had been creating custom built trays with individual spaces for each button as seen in this Duke Today video.

Here is another example from the Terence Mitchell Collection of Tobacco Related Ephemera of the kind of tray we were creating for the buttons.

Mitchell Tobacco Collection

This approach resulted in a really nice custom enclosure for a group of buttons, but was time consuming to create by hand and inconvenient when just one or two new buttons would need to be added to the collection.

After a meeting with Rubenstein Library curatorial and technical services staff to assess the state of the entire collection and discuss goals for the future of the collection I started researching housing options. I remembered seeing a method for housing buttons by pinning them on to foam covered boards but many of our buttons didn’t have their backing pins and there was no way to number individual items using that system. I had also seen a method for housing small artifacts that looked like it could be promising with a little modification.

Now we house each button using a clear 4″ x 5” zip top, virgin polyethylene bag with a 40 point tan barrier board stiffener inside. The bags are either 4 mil or 6 mil so they are strong and provide some cushion. I cut the barrier board to be small enough to easily slip in and out of the bag and I round the corners so they don’t fray or poke through the plastic bag. The pins aren’t attached to the stiffener backing but it provides structure and support for the different sized items. The top of the stiffener can be labeled with an item identification number if needed. Then the bags can either be housed flat in trays or upright in shoebox style archival boxes.

This method makes it easy to house large numbers of buttons quickly and is easy enough for technical services staff to assemble these housings themselves. When one or two new buttons arrive to be added to an existing collection, they can easily be bagged and filed in place in an existing box. It is also still easy for researchers to flip through a box and look at each button without having to handle the actual item. So far we’ve been really happy with this solution and I imagine it could be adapted for housing other small ephemera collections in the future.

Duke University Libraries Preservation